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Daniel Jon Mitchell

Leverhulme Trust Early Career Research Fellow

Junior Research Fellow, Clare Hall

Research interests: Physics and natural philosophy in the long nineteenth century, especially:

  • Intellectual and socio-cultural origins of the physics discipline, especially in France and Britain.
  • History of electricity and its industrial and economic connections.
  • Processes of quantification; physical instrumentation; measurement and its mathematical representation.

I joined the Department of History and Philosophy of Science in October 2013 as a Leverhulme Trust Early Career Research Fellow. Previously I held a Teaching Fellowship at the University of Hong Kong and a Visiting Postdoctoral Fellowship at Harvard University.

I am primarily engaged in a book project that revises the standard picture of the emergence of the physics discipline in Britain by reappraising the conceptual and mathematical foundations of physical measurement during the mid- to late-nineteenth century. I set the role of measurement in this process in the wider historical context of British educational reform, state funding for science, the professionalization of telegraphic engineering, and, via weights and measures reform, the economic expansion of the British Empire.

A related strand of my current research explores the liberalization of the kinds of mathematical object and forms of mathematical reasoning that were admissible in physical argumentation during the late-nineteenth century. Using perspectives from intellectual and social history, and integrated history and philosophy of science, I examine knowledge exchange between mathematics and physics communities and seek to explain mathematical novelties in the representation of physical laws and the concrete results of measurement.

With Hasok Chang and Eran Tal, I am co-editing a special issue of the journal Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, which will contain selected papers from the international conference that we recently organized on ‘The Making of Measurement’. This Summer I am convening a one-day workshop on the origins of the physics discipline entitled ‘Phases of Physics’.

Recent publications

'Making Sense of Absolute Measurement: James Clerk Maxwell, Fleeming Jenkin, and the Construction of the Dimensional Formula', Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics, forthcoming.

'Rethinking Classical Physics', with Graeme Gooday, Oxford Handbook of the History of Physics, edited by Robert Fox and Jed Z. Buchwald (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013): 721–764.

'Measurement in French Experimental Physics from Regnault to Lippmann', Annals of Science 69 (2012): 453–482 [Winner of the Annals of Science Young Writers’ Prize 2011].

'Reflecting Nature: Chemistry and Comprehensibility in Gabriel Lippmann's "Physical" Method of Photographing Colours', Notes and Records of the Royal Society 64 (2010): 319–337 [Winner of the Notes and Records Essay Award 2010].

Daniel Jon Mitchell